When the Spirit Moves to Reflect


Clergy plan service to inspire hope.

When a tragedy occurs, it’s the duty of spiritual leaders to comfort the bereaved and the suffering.

But what happens when the spiritual leaders suffer as well? It’s been 10 years since September 11, 2001. And for those leaders of the houses of worship in Sag Harbor, the memory remains strong.

“I remember being one of the last cars out of Manhattan before they closed the Triborough Bridge,” said Rev. Shawn Williams of Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor. “You know, as a priest, you have to be good in a crisis, and you have to engage with people who are suffering … in a way, I think I was one of the lucky ones. I had people to help, I had something to do.”

On the anniversary of September 11, the emotional response may have changed, but it has not dimmed. September

11 is one of those landmarks in time, where people remember where they were and what they were doing.

For some, faith is the way of comfort. After September 11, some found God; others turned to a religious path they had followed before the tragedy. To provide that spiritual sanctuary, the clergy of Sag Harbor has organized a multi-faith memorial service at Marine Park on Sunday, September 11 at 7 p.m.

“The media hype has soared,” said Rev. Joanne Utley of the Bridgehampton United Methodist Church. “So we want this service to be a place where people can come for quiet reflection. They can walk with a sense of hope, rather than depression.”

During the day, individual services will take place at five houses of worship, including the Old Whalers’ Church/Conservative Synagogue, St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, Christ Episcopal Church, St. David AME Zion Church and Temple Adas Israel. At 7 p.m., each congregation will walk with a lighted candle toward Marine Park, guided by a lantern.

Williams noted the 10-year period has seen a change in response from people. Some do not want to acknowledge the event as a national memorial day, simply because the memory is too painful. But for this anniversary, Williams said even those sufferers felt a commemoration was important.

“Even those who are normally hesitant understand the importance of this service,” Williams said. “It’s such an overwhelming experience, that many can’t even talk about it. So, a religious space gives people a sense of quiet, a sense of community — that they’re not alone.”

The idea for the commemoration occurred to Utley, Williams and other congregation leaders at a gathering. The spiritual leaders of the Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton houses of worship wanted to hold an event that would “convey the message of hope, of moving forward and peace … to those who are still suffering 10 years later,” according to Utley.

Despite their diverse backgrounds, Utley said the events of September 11 were such that they drove all faiths together. They planned a program designed to carry that message of faith and communication.

“We chose the water setting at Marine Park, because if we were outdoors, we would be able to hold a large number of people,” Utley said. “As followers of a merciful God, together we can offer hopes for justice and solutions.”

Utley said it was important for them that the event not be a “ra-ra-ra patriotism thing. We wanted this to be a gathering of human beings breaking down walls.” The lanterns and candles symbolize a movement from light to darkness, according to Utley. At Marine Park, people will recount their own experiences of the event.

“Some people were affected directly by those plane crashes,” Utley said. “They lost a loved one. But it’s not just the direct loss that made people suffer. Others lost their sense of security, their freedom, their innocence.”

Then, each person can offer his or her “snapshot of hope.” This “snapshot” represents what people have managed to salvage from that day, whether it be a sense of community or what has kept them moving through the years. Although we live in a world that is “not fair, we still live in a world where we can find hope through faith and each other,” Utley said.

In the end, it’s the travels from darkness to light that guide these spiritual leaders and their congregants. It’s the ability to connect emotionally with people from all backgrounds, faiths and tragedies. Utley and Williams hope the multi-faith memorial service will offer comfort and peace to those who are still affected by the events of ten years ago.

“You have the opportunity to really listen to what people are saying and suffering,” Williams said. “This event allows their memories not just to be talked about, but to be acknowledged as living, breathing experiences of what happened on 9/11.”